Fear of missing out

I woke up on a Saturday morning with a need to skip town

My roommate agreed. I sat in bed and googled charming Southern towns, pretending that someone might bring me breakfast. I waited a long time, but nothing happened, so I got out of bed.

The long holiday weekend was open to beautiful possibility. I quickly filtered the options on Google and selected that place every girl wants to go–the town where Nicholas Sparks lives and breathes his literary genius. I’ve let my emotions take the lead in a few of my decisions lately, like in the paint aisle at Lowes. Result? Green bathroom walls that remind me of mint chocolate chip ice cream without the chocolate chips. We’ll discuss later if that is a good thing…

We drove the two hours to New Bern, North Carolina to stroll past Georgian-style homes with whitewashed porches, rocking chairs and flags still aloft from the 4th of July weekend. Everything was perfectly in place, but in this little slice of American life, I felt some underlying angst. I labeled the feeling as “the fear of missing out.” Even while adventuring, I still felt incomplete. Did I pick the right place? Is there somewhere else we should have gone? Did I wear the right outfit for pictures? It is the feeling I drag around and rearrange in my mind like furniture I hate.

What is the fear of missing out? It’s not as simple as not being invited to a social event. It’s the insecure current running through my veins that my story is not enough, that I should be doing more with this one life. I’ve spent a long time reflecting on this thought. Long enough where I actually enter into a temporary social coma like Ben Stiller in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Ask people who’ve tried to have conversations with me this past month!

After all that thinking, I’ve landed on a reason why I’m experiencing this fear:

My pain might me my own, but it's not a unique problem

There’s a whole world of people out there feeling the exact same things! But we hold so tightly to our own disappointments and hurts, mulling them over, replaying them in our minds, but hiding them from everyone else. Social media is the shrine of other people’s happy moments. The walls of Facebook and Instagram are painted with the good, the exciting, the great unknown of adventure, family, marriage, singleness, whatever good gifts granted to those wearing the right shade of lipstick.  Maybe to those looking from the outside in, my life was a false representation too. I don’t wear the doubts, the feelings of inadequacy, or weariness in any of my pictures. But moments of pain which are universal, are the ones less frequently shared. And those are the ones we need to see the most, the moments that make us human.

I think “the fear of missing out” is better translated “the fear of getting it wrong”

Other people’s choices haunt me as options I haven’t chosen. Vacation photos populate lists of places I haven’t yet explored, and the “have not’s” continue to plague me. I begin to feel as if I’m the only one with white walls in life, so I paint mine the color of my favorite ice cream, because it’s better to be colorful than boring.

This obsessive fear that i’m not doing enough impressive things with my life is plaguing me when I wake up and when I go to sleep, but I know that changing my location won’t solve it, because I just moved my entire life across the country. I know that another job won’t make much difference, because I just got one, and I know that deep down, this wrestling match with discontent is going to kick my ass if I decide not to do anything about it. I know what you’re thinking: If it’s not productivity, or location, or purpose, then what is my problem?

I’m not sure, but I think it’s called being a twenty-first century human. We have too much connectivity to the superficial and not enough reality in the deep things of other people’s lives.  I actually told myself today that if I was Taylor Swift, I would not feel so uninteresting. Her Instagram is off the hook. But if she is still single and floating around her own little orbits of heartbreak singing words like “And I know it’s long gone, that magic’s not here no more, and I might be ok but I’m not fine at all,” then maybe we’re more alike then I ever thought possible. As I tilted my chin upwards to watch the Fourth of July fireworks, I realized something.

The sincerity of my doubt does not make the possibilities for hope any less true

Read that line again until you believe it too. Even in times when I think there’s not real reason to believe the story that God is writing with my life is any good, that does not limit his purposes from coming true. He is God, and I am simply rearranging bad circumstances like furniture, hoping all the while the whole house will just burn down so I can start new.

On a recent drive to a coffee shop I saw an old man on the sidewalk completely lost in thought, or possibly dementia, outside of a retirement home. He was looking into space with such an intensity that I absolutely knew he was thinking about someone, or something, and missing it. He was in another world, a Walter Mitty in his own right. And I began to understand how my pain is not exclusive, and maybe this is what I need to learn.